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Another odorous anecdote from the Qing dynasty

俗稱溲便之器曰馬子,初名虎子,以唐人諱虎而改為馬,見《雲麓漫鈔》。而《通雅》則曰:“獸子者,褻器也,或以銅為馬形,便於騎以溲也。馬子之稱,殆沿於此。”

A chamber pot is commonly called a “pony”. Its original name was “little tiger”. With “tiger” being a taboo word,[1] people of the Tang dynasty changed the name to “pony”; see Yunlu manchao.[2] Yet the Tongya[3] states that: “A ‘little beast’ refers to the chamber pot. Some use bronze to make it in the shape of a horse, which is convenient for riding and urinating. The name ‘pony’ probably originated from this.”

俗又稱曰馬桶,則始於宋。《夢粱錄》云:“杭城戶口繁夥,民家多無坑廁,只用馬桶是也。”南人無溷軒{廁屋也},男女皆用馬桶。桶木質,髹之,越宿始傾腳頭,即溲便也。置屋隅,雖有蓋,不免時有惡臭,以其穢深入木之腠理也。

It is also commonly known as a “horse bucket”, which originated in the Song dynasty. The Menglianglu[4] says: “The city of Hang[zhou] is densely populated. Most ordinary households do not have any toilet pit and simply use horse buckets.” Southerners do not have a privy {bathroom}. Both men and women use horse buckets, which are made of wood and coated with lacquer. The content, namely the urine and excrement, is emptied the next day. This bucket is put in a corner of the room. Although it has a lid, the stink is often inevitable, for the odour is deeply soaked into the grain of the wood.

金奇中患之,知泰西人所製之桶,鐵質而加瓷釉,必較木製者為潔,無紋理,穢不深入也,俗呼之曰洋瓷馬桶,因購而用之。然傾腳頭者必越日始至,未能如西人之即遣即傾也,室中之惡臭乃加甚,至不可嚮邇。

Jin Qizhong, concerned about this, learned that Western buckets are made of iron with porcelain glazing, which must be cleaner than the wooden ones, for the former has no grain into which the filth can soak. It is commonly called the “foreign porcelain horse bucket”. He then bought one and used it. However, the man in charge of emptying the bucket only came over the next day, making it impossible to empty it after every discharge as Westerners do. The horrible stink in the room got even worse to the point that [he] could not even come close [to it].

一日大悟,語其友龍南徐伯英鹺尹宗達曰:“吾之用洋磁馬桶,吾之變法也。然此外皆不變,遂至多所扞格而不適於用。甚矣!變法之不可枝枝節節而為之也,變甲而不變乙,亦徒見其有害而無利,其害或且加甚矣!”伯深以為然。而奇中自是亦不敢輕言變法矣。

One day, [he] finally thought it through and told his friend Xu Zongda, [courtesy name] Boying, Salt Transport Commissioner of Longnan: “Using a foreign porcelain horse bucket was a reform of mine. However, everything else remained unchanged. As a result, it didn’t really fit well and was not suitable for use. Alas! One cannot implement reform by [changing] insignificant details. Changing A without changing B will only manifest its harm, not its advantages. Its harm sometimes gets even worse!” Boying could not agree more. From then on, Qizhong did not dare to talk about reform lightly.


* An anecdote from Xu Ke 徐珂 (1869-1928) ed., Qingbai leichao 清稗類鈔 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2010), vol. 4, 1676-77.

[1] The character hu 虎 (tiger) was taboo as it was the given name of the grandfather of Li Yuan 李淵 (566-635, ruling 618-626), the founding emperor of the Tang dynasty. [2] The Yunlu mangchao is a collection of anecdotes compiled by Zhao Yanwei 趙彥衛 (fl. 12th century). [3] The Tongya is a collection of scholarly notes on lexical issues by Fang Yizhi 方以智 (1611-1671). [4] The Menglianglu is Wu Zimu’s 吳自牧 (fl. 13the century) memoir of Hangzhou, the capital city of the Southern Song (1127-1279).


Some objects identified as early huzi 虎子 ("little tiger"), presumably used as portable urinals.

A bronze "little tiger" inlaid with gold and silver from late Warring States period (475/403-221 BCE)

Picture credit: Palace Museum, Beijing (https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/bronze/230132.html)

A porcelain "little tiger" from the Western Jin (266-316)

Picture credit: Shanghai Musem

A bronze "little beast" from the Han dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), with a removable head

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

 

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